I walked quickly to the large table, careful not to drop the platter of fruits, vegetables, and lentils I was carrying. The sight of such delicious food made my mouth water, and I wished I could eat it. This kind of food used to be available to me. Not anymore. I placed the tray down at the king’s seat, and looked at him. He stared at me for a moment, then his eyes went back to the plate, which he didn’t hesitate to eat from. I was waiting for a ‘thank you’, but it never came. I walked back out of the room, and went to fetch my own morning meal. “What is there for me today?” I asked the cook. He looked up from the oven he was baking bread in and shook his head. “Nothing today. The king was quite hungry, and there is none left for you. I’m sorry,” he said, but I could tell he didn’t care whether I ate or not. I turned around and left.
My stomach rumbled as I walked to the fields were I worked picking crops. I used to be a successful merchant, selling clay bowls to transport water. I was wealthy, and could afford good food. Last year, another merchant started to sell bowls that were larger and sturdier than mine. I lost almost all of my business, and didn’t have enough money to pay the king taxes. To make up for this, I had to spend an entire year serving the king. My days were dull, always the same. I woke up at the crack of dawn, served the king breakfast, got my own small meal (hopefully), walked to the fields, picked wheat all day, returned later, fed the king his dinner, received my small meal, and went to bed. It had already been three months away from my family, and without my profits, they could barely afford enough to live off of. I worried about them every day, but couldn’t leave my sleeping quarters for anything but work. “Hey! You! Get over here!”, someone shouted. I looked around. Oh no, I thought. I was at the river. My thoughts must have distracted me and made me walk past the wheat fields. As a servant, I wasn’t allowed to go here. I heard footsteps next to me. “You are not allowed to go over here, you know,” a voice said. “I know,” I answered quickly, trying to sound braver than I felt. I looked at the man. He was armed with a bow and arrow, and I could tell he was a soldier. I was really in trouble now. “By your age, most servants know not to walk past the fields,” Anger swelled up inside of me. “I am NOT a servant!” I yelled, glaring at him. He crossed his arms. “Oh, really?” He stepped closer to me. “No.” I tried to calm myself down. “I’m just making up for…overdue taxes.” I smiled, hoping he would believe me. “Alright, I’ll let you go this time,” he stated, still sounding unsure. “But next time anyone catches you over here I’ll-” “Thank you! Thank you!” I grabbed his free hand and shook it forcefully. I was laughing, but he didn’t even smile. “Just get going now, don’t make me regret my decision,” he started to push me away.
That night, I lied awake in bed, thinking about the day’s events. I had been so lucky to get passed that soldier. I could have been killed, arrested, or hurt. I shivered. Just the thought of it was horrible. I would have to be more careful in the coming months. Just nine months to go, I thought, then I could finally go home.
I was woken up late that night, by the sound of voices outside the small hut I lived in. “They will come tomorrow. We must be alert and have our army ready.” I recognized the voice as that of the king, and sat up to listen. “But sir, the army, many of them won’t be available, you know, protecting you, sir,” said another person who I didn’t recognize. “But we need them. They can’t just stand there; they must do their part to keep our city-state safe!” The king added. “But sir, what about you?”
“Oh, I’ll just stay in the palace and give orders. Don’t worry about me.”
“But sir, you are the king, and you need protection.”
“Our land is what really needs protection.”
“I will be fine, Shamash-Nasir.”
“Alright. But if you change your mind-”
“I will let you know.”
“Sir, there is one more issue we must address.”
“So many issues! Ugh.”
“We-weapons, we will need someone to cast weapons for us. The ones we have simply will not do. As you know, sir, the city-state planning to attack us is armed much better than we are, and we need bronze swords if we are going to have even the slightest chance of defeating them.”
“What about the new servant? He’s temporary, seems to be responsible, and could easily do that for us.”
I quietly got out of bed and walked towards the front of the hut. The king was talking about me!
“Sir, a servant? Are you sure?” I heard the other voice say. By the way he was talking to the king, I imagined that he was a priest. “Yes, a servant, and I want him in the palace at dawn. Have him come directly to me,” the king added. I smiled to myself. The king, who I served breakfast to every day, really trusted me. Making swords was no easy task, and I knew that I had to take this new responsibility seriously. I wanted to run out of my hut, tell the king I was ready to start training now, but remembered that I wasn’t supposed to even know what they had said.
The next morning, I was woken up early by the priest who had spoken to the king the night before. He dragged me out of bed without telling me where we were going, and I pretended to act surprised as we went into the king’s very own sleeping quarters, where other servants, the kind that served their entire lives, were hurriedly running around doing their chores. The priest left the room. “Yes, sir?” I asked the king, who sat on the side of his bed. “Another city-state is planning to attack us today. By noon, you must have thirty-eight bronze swords ready for battle.”
“Sir, I, I do not know how to make swords.” I was afraid and my palms were sweaty, for I had never talked to anyone in such high power personally. “I will show you.” The king stood up, and I silently followed him through the twisting, long hallways of the palace, and to a small room. The metal is heated here. He pointed to a big fireplace in the middle of the room, and motioned for me to take the scrap pieces of metal and place them in. The king then took the molten metals and placed them into a sword-shaped mold, waited a few minutes, and soon, a perfectly flat, smooth, and sturdy sword came out. It was now my turn to try. The first few times it ended terribly, either too hot or too cold or just a big wasted lump of bronze. Eventually I got it to work, and it was not long before I had perfect swords sitting out, which servants took to the anxious soldiers who stood at the border of our city-state, waiting for the attack.
It was late in the day when the invaders finally arrived. Most people were settling down from a busy day at work when the large, loud army came stampeding towards us. From the large window in the sweltering room I worked busily in, I could see the action, and watched as the invaders fought our own soldiers, some on each side already dead. The fighting lasted late into the night, and I spent the entire time cranking out new weapons for the ever growing army of citizens, trying their best to defend our city-state.
I heard someone calling my name and woke up, surprised to find that I had fallen asleep on the floor, the metal I had put on the fire hours ago still burning. I sat up. I noticed the man calling my name was the same priest who had brought me to the king earlier that day. “We are running out of men to fight,” he told me. “We need you to join the army.” He pulled me up off the floor. “M-me? I’m just a servant!” I usually didn’t think of myself like that, but I couldn’t help it. “Yes, you! Now go! Go! Hurry” He pushed me over to where the swords were, and motioned for me to grab one. “Sir, I, I can’t fight, I’m just-” He stared at me. “Alright.” I picked up a sword. “Good. Now go outside, where the men are.” He started to walk with me out the door.
“But Sir, I’ve never fought before!”
“You will soon enough.”
Clearly he wasn’t going to tell me how to fight. I was just a merchant, a servant, not one to fight in war, but what could I do? I walked out into the dark street, gingerly stepped passed the bodies that lay on the ground, and stepped up in line with the other warriors.
I fought for hours and hours, and, never having worked this hard in my life, felt miserable the entire time. It was early the next morning when I fell to the ground exhausted, my sword still in my hand. I waited for some warrior from the other city-state to realize that I wasn’t actually dead and stab me, but no one ever did. I just lied on the ground, the hot sun beating down on me, as men sacrificed their lives all around me.
I woke up suddenly feeling something hard on my foot. Opening my eyes, I could see by the position of the sun that hours had passed, and that the king was stepping on my feet, clearly not realizing that I was alive. To my surprise, he was not surrounded by his servants and wearing his regal clothing, but rather fighting off the opposing warriors with one of my swords. “Sir?” He looked at me, startled. “What are you doing here?” I asked. His eyes were wide.
“Are-are you, did you come back from the dead?”
“I was never dead. Why are you fighting, Sir?”
“Oh, there were no more men available. As you can see, we only have a few left.” He pointed to the dozen or so men who were fighting with the other city-state’s army. I nodded.
“Why don’t you get up, we need you!” The king helped me to my feet, and I got up. “Thank you, Sir.” “Your welcome, young man.”
I brushed off the dirt on my arms and knees and looked around. The king screamed. I turned around. Someone had stabbed him! I quickly went around him and pointed my sword at the man who had stabbed the king. He pointed his back. I could tell he was a skilled warrior, for as we fought, he avoided my attempts to hurt him with ease, while I flailed my limbs around trying to duck his. Another wail of pain came from the king, and I turned to see what happened. He had been stabbed again! I flung my sword in the air and ran over to help the king. As I ran, I caught a glimpse of the man who had first stabbed the king falling to the ground, my sword in his chest. It was absurd. Impossible. It was a miracle! I had just happened to lodge it perfectly into his body. I hadn’t even meant to hit him at all! I ran back and grabbed the long bronze sword, wincing as I pulled it out of the man’s body. I took it by the handle, once again throwing it, this time at the warrior who was stabbing the king in his right arm. Just like the last time, the sword stuck right in him! He fell to the ground dead, his arm still clutching his sword. I looked around, seeing if there were any more men I needed to fight off. The only ones were from our city-state, staring at me with wide eyes, clearly amazed that an inexperienced servant like me could kill skilled warriors that easily. The king, he was on the ground, bleeding and moaning. “Are you alright, Sir?” I asked him, getting on my knees. “I-I need help!” He cried.
I saw my family standing in the crowd of people and waved to them. People all around me they shouted my name, cheering me on. I marched down the main road of our city-state along with the king, celebrating our victory. It had taken a few weeks for all the men who had fought to recover, but now we were all better, marching down the road, parading in our finest clothing. Everyone was thankful to be alive and have our victory, but there were even more things for me to be thankful about. The king had just offered me a job as a permanent bodyguard for him. “Oh, no, how could I accept, I’m just a servant!” I had said to him. “Why, you are very talented, young man! It will be an honor to have you around the palace!” He had replied. Eventually, after lots of convincing, I decided to take the job. “Thank you! Thank you!” I had called. I thought of the last two months, so miserable and desperate to go home. Maybe being a servant isn’t so bad after all? I smiled to myself.